Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans

The Dynamic Earth
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for Teachers is divided into four sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the Lesson.
Steps -- Conducting the Lesson.
Extensions -- Additional Activities.
Tips -- Managing Resources and Student Activities.


  • Maps of the world for plotting earthquake and volcanic activity. Maps can be downloaded from Map Of The World (
  • Newspaper articles that describe recent earthquakes.
  • Two or more aluminum trays (at least 1.5 inches deep, 8 inches wide, and 12 inches long).
  • Sand (enough to fill the tray).
  • Jell-O (enough to fill the tray).
  • Sugar cubes.
  • Colored pencils for the whole class.
Computer Resources:
You will need at least one computer with Internet access to complete this lesson. While many configurations will work, we recommend:

  • Modem: 28.8 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 3.0 or above or Internet Explorer 3.0 or above.
  • Macintosh computer: System 7.0 or above and at least 16 MB of RAM.
  • IBM-compatible computer: 386 or higher processor with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 3.1. Or, a 486/66 or Pentium with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 95.

For more information, visit What You Need to Get Connected in wNetSchool's Internet Primer.

The following sites should be bookmarked:

  • Map Of The World

    A world map that includes longitude and latitude lines.

  • Museum Of The City Of San Francisco -- Ninetieth Anniversary Of The Great Quake

    The site includes testimonials and stories from real survivors of the Great San Francisco Quake of 1906, interesting links, and photographs.

  • Earthquake Intensity (Modified Mercalli Scale)

    The Nevada Seismological Laboratory's site includes a detailed explanation of the Modified Mercalli scale.

  • Richter Magnitude

    The Nevada Seismological Laboratory's site includes a detailed explanation of the Richter scale.

  • USGS Learning Web: Understanding Maps

    This well-designed tutorial helps students read various types of maps.

  • Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me A Map

    This is an informative site about cartography.

  • PEPPSN Earthquake Database

    Affiliated with the Princeton (University) Earth Physics Project (, this site maintains an excellent database of recent earthquake activity. It is presented in an orderly, logical format.

  • National Earthquake Information Center -- World Data Center For Seismology

    The National Earthquake Information Center Web site collects and disseminates information about recent earthquakes.

  • Live Earthquake Maps

    An interactive map of recent earthquake activity.

  • Earthquake Information Center -- Weekly Earthquake Map

    A world map showing earthquake activity.

  • Savage Earth

    The WNET Web companion piece to the PBS series, SAVAGE EARTH. It includes great animations of earthquake and volcanic activity.

  • List Of Holocene Volcanoes

    This site contains a list -- using latitude and longitude -- of volcanic eruptions in the past 10,000 years.

  • World Volcano Map

    This is a map of fairly recent volcanic activity (1987-1995).


  • Begin by asking students to define the word "earthquake." Most students have heard of earthquakes, but (outside of California) probably have not experienced one. Ask them to write a description of an earthquake and hypothesize about why earthquakes occur. Have students share their descriptions of, and theories about, the phenomenon.

  • Direct students to the following site, where they can read testimonials and stories from real survivors of the Great San Francisco Quake of 1906. Break the class into teams. Instruct students to read one of the stories, write a summary, and report the details of the story to the remainder of the class.

    Museum Of The City Of San Francisco -- Ninetieth Anniversary Of The Great Quake

    In addition to the eyewitness accounts, there are several links on this page that you may want students to explore. Many offer interesting extensions into social studies and history subject areas. You may wish to go to the photographs link, download some images, and post them around the classroom to enhance the investigation.

  • How do we measure the intensity of an earthquake? Have students read about the two intensity scales, Mercalli and Richter, at the following pages on the Nevada Seismological Laboratory site:

    Earthquake Intensity (Modified Mercalli Scale)

    Richter Magnitude

    On the Mercalli page there is a simple map depicting the intensity ratings for the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. You may wish to have the students read about each level of intensity and draw pictures to represent the level of damage that occurs. Be sure to have students analyze the map provided to learn the extent of damage caused by the quake.

    Distribute newspaper articles that describe earthquakes. Using the descriptions, have students determine the earthquake intensity on the Mercalli scale.

  • The following are activities that illustrate earthquake damage, adapted from TREMOR TROOPS, published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and NSTA; additional information is available at Earthquakes: A Teacher’s Package For K-6 (

    Students should nearly fill their aluminum tray with sand, saturate it with water, and then cover the wet sand with a thin layer of dry sand. Have students place their hands (the palm side) on the sand to verify that it is firm and not "quicksand-like." If it is too soft, add a little more dry sand. Next, shake the tray vigorously and observe changes. The water will rise by capillary action to the surface, and the surface that was firm becomes much less firm or supportive. This process is known as "liquefaction" and occured in parts of San Francisco during the great quake. Any buildings built on this type of land simply fell over!

    Fill the second tray with Jell-O. Place some "buildings" made of sugar cubes on the Jell-O. Make some high-rises! Next, generate an earthquake by tapping the outside of the tray. Have students note the surface waves that are generated and the resulting impact on the buildings.

  • Now that your students have effectively conducted a case study (the 1906 quake), learned how earthquakes are "rated," and observed the damage earthquakes can cause, they should be ready to do some "risk analysis" to determine the chances of an earthquake happening today in their neighborhood.

    Students need to be familiar with the basics of using a map. If they are not, direct them to the Web sites below:

    USGS Learning Web: Understanding Maps

    Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me A Map

  • Introduce the students to real-time earthquake data available on the Internet. Some sites with this information are:

    PEPPSN Earthquake Database

    National Earthquake Information Center -- World Data Center For Seismology
    ( -- select "current quick epicenter determinations")

  • Instruct students to plot the real-time data, using different colored pencils to represent different magnitudes or appropriate computer software. The above sites contain an abundance of recent earthquake data. You may wish to break the students into groups and have each group be responsible for plotting some of the data. Once their work is complete, compile all the groups' data into one map (perhaps by making transparencies of each group's map and then overlaying the transparencies). As students view the completed map, encourage them to describe the pattern that emerges. This is the "ring of fire" pattern.

    Students should then compare their results to maps of earthquakes that have already been prepared on the Internet. These can be found at:

    Live Earthquake Maps

    Earthquake Information Center -- Weekly Earthquake Map

  • Introduce the basics of plate tectonics to your class. For a useful animated overview, direct your students to SAVAGE EARTH: Hell's Crust. You may need to download the free Flash plug-in to view the animations.


    Ask students whether they think there is any connection between earthquakes, plate boundaries, and volcanoes. Allow them to brainstorm and decide if any connection exists. Have your students do the same plotting exercise that they did with earthquakes. Direct them to List Of Holocene Volcanoes ( for location information about volcanic activity over the past 10,000 years. Have your students compare their maps to an Internet map of volcanic activity: World Volcano Map (


    The study of earthquakes can enable students to extend their knowledge in:

    Language Arts: Have students write essays describing how they might respond to an emergency created by an earthquake of a given magnitude. FEMA (, Federal Emergency Management Agency, has some excellent material on response to natural disasters.

    Science/Technology: Visit a local museum or college that has a working seismograph, or invite a geologist into class to discuss his/her experiences with earthquakes. Also, have students research how volcanic eruptions can affect the atmosphere and weather.

    Social Studies/Technology: Have students search the Internet or newspaper articles to discover how people handle and respond to natural disasters. Has our response to natural disasters changed since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake? Have students search the Internet to discover what emergency procedures are in place to help survivors of natural disasters. Create a Web site with mock interviews of earthquake survivors and victims. Then collaborate with students from other schools in other parts of the country where earthquakes have been experienced. Additionally, you may wish to visit listservs where discussions about earthquakes and related experiences occur.


    One Computer in the Classroom
    If you have access to one computer in your classroom, you can organize your class in several ways. Divide your class into two groups. Instruct one of the groups to do paper research while the second group is working on the computer. Bring in books, encyclopedias, etc., from the library for the group doing paper research. Lead the group working at the computer through an Internet search or allow the students in the class to take turns. (Always have a set of bookmarks ready for the students before they start working on the computer, in order to show them examples of what to look for.) When the groups finish working, have them switch places.

    If you have a big monitor or projection facilities, you can do Internet research together as a class. Make sure that every student in your class can see the screen, go to the relevant Web site(s), and review the information presented there. You can also select a search engine page and allow your students to suggest the search criteria. Again, bookmark and/or print the pages that you think are helpful for reference later.

    Several Computers in the Classroom
    Divide your class into small groups. Groups can do Internet research using pages you have bookmarked. Group members should take turns navigating the bookmarked sites.

    You can also set the class up so that each computer is dedicated to certain sites. Students will then move around the classroom, getting different information from each station.

    Using a Computer Lab
    A computer center or lab space, with a computer-to-student ratio of one to three, is ideal for doing Web-based projects. Generally, when doing Web-based research, it is helpful to put students in groups of three. This way, students can help each other if problems or questions arise. It is often beneficial to bookmark sites for students ahead of time.

    Submit a Comment: We invite your comments and suggestions based on how you used the lesson in your classroom.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students